Short Takes: July 26, 2013

Short Takes: July 26, 2013

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...

Next Week: Amsterdam

My family is doing the home swap thing again, so we’ll be in Amsterdam—and visiting various places in The Netherlands and Belgium—over the next three weeks. Normally, this wouldn’t affect you too much, as I always work when I'm away, but this time I'm doing something different. In fact, it’s something I’ve not done in over 10 years (really): I’m taking an actual vacation. So, during the week of August 5—which is the middle of the three weeks I’m away—I won’t be working. But I do have some fun plans for both WinInfo and the SuperSite for Windows, both of which will be updated while I’m away. I’ll discuss those plans soon. For now, it’s time to get the house cleaned and us packed and ready. —Paul

Microsoft Will Support “Self Publishing” with Xbox One

Microsoft confirmed this week that it will allow anyone to self-publish games for the Xbox One, a dramatic expansion of the capabilities of the console. While there are absolutely no details about how one might do such a thing, we do at least have a carefully crafted and vetted quote to ponder: “Our vision is that every person can be a creator,” Xbox Chief Product Officer (sigh) Marc Whitten says (allegedly). “That every Xbox One can be used for development. That every game and experience can take advantage of all of the features of Xbox One and Xbox Live. This means self-publishing. This means Kinect, the cloud, achievements. This means great discoverability on Xbox Live.” What does this mean? Seriously, I have no idea. But we’ll find out more the week of August 19, Microsoft says. Related: "Xbox One Launch Missteps Could Cost Microsoft"

Belated Release of Service Pack 2 for Office 2010

Microsoft has sworn off service packs for its most recent products and will instead use a new “rapid release cycle” mindset to provide continuous upgrades a la online services. But some heavily used Microsoft products aren’t exactly recent, and they still need to be updated. So the firm this week released Office 2010 Service Pack 2 (SP2). There are many, many SP2 downloads, so I’ll just point you to Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 Service Pack 2 Availability on the Microsoft Office Updates blog, which provides a nice list. And then I’ll just throw this out there because I know you’re going to ask: No, Microsoft has no plans for a Windows 7 SP2. But yes, the company should do that too. Related: "Microsoft Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 Service Pack 2 Released"

Michael Dell Gives Shareholders His Final Offer

Michael Dell—who appears to be suffering from a severe case of “Andrew Jackson hair” these days—has given shareholders what he describes as his final offer in his contentious bid to take back his company and take it private. Mr. Dell has raised his bid only a bit, from $13.65 per share to $13.75 per share, but that’s contingent on a major change to the way shareholders will vote on the buyout offer. Under the proposed rule change, absentee votes wouldn’t be counted, whereas under the current rule those votes count as a “no.” Will his new bid succeed? I hope so, really. And we’ll find out in early August. Stay tuned.

Samsung Sells an Astonishing 76 Million Smartphones, Controls Over 33 Percent of the Market

Smartphone juggernaut Samsung sold more than 76 million smartphones in the second quarter, according to Strategy Analytics, expanding its share of the market to 33.1 percent. The report notes that Samsung isn’t just beating Apple—the iPhone fell to just 13 percent of the market in the same quarter, down from 16.6 percent a year ago—it’s pummeling Apple and has in fact just obtained its biggest lead over the Cupertino consumer electronics giant since the release of the first iPhone in 2007. In Q1, Samsung sold 1.9 times as many smartphones as Apple. But that gap jumped to 2.4 times in the most recent quarter. Also bad for Apple: Although sales of iPhones—50 percent of which are two- and three-year old models—actually did grow 20 percent in the quarter, overall smartphones sales roared ahead 47 percent, so Apple is falling behind ever more rapidly. Meanwhile, Samsung on Friday announced a $6.9 billion profit, two-thirds of that from smartphones and other mobile products, on revenues of $51.5 billion, and the firm now has a “rapidly increasing” cash stockpile of $42.2 billion. And this happened in a time of “weak seasonality,” according to Samsung. The holidays should be interesting. Related: "Report: Smartphone Market Moving to Android Monopoly"

Google Makes Third Pitch for the Living Room

And if this was Microsoft, this would be the time they got it right. First, we had Google TV, a product no one wanted or liked (and yet, Google keeps trying to sell it for some reason). Then, we (very briefly) had the Nexus Q, a bizarre and stupid device that was so bad that Google cancelled it before it was even released. And now Google is foisting yet another living room solution on us, the Chromecast. The $35 device looks like a slightly big USB key, but it’s really an HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV (and, separately, to a power supply) and lets you stream content using your smartphone, tablet, or computer as a glorified remote control. If you feel like you’ve read this story before, you have: Apple does the same thing with AirPlay and its Apple TV, as does Microsoft with Play To/Play on Xbox/Smart Glass and the Xbox 360. Will Google’s third try succeed? No, because no one has found the secret sauce to the living room yet, and this me-too solution certainly isn’t different enough to be a big deal. Sorry, Google, but Roku already works just fine, thanks.

BlackBerry Lays Off Another 250 Employees

I know, I can’t believe this company is still in business either.

FTC and Google Finalize Their Antitrust Agreement

If there’s ever been a headline that I wish had much deeper ramifications, that’s it right there. This week, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it has finalized an agreement with Google in which the online search giant will license standard-essential patents from its Motorola Mobility business unit under Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms as required by law. Google had previously sought injunctions against companies like Microsoft that had tried to coerce Google into licensing these patents fairly, triggering some federal oversight. So now Google cannot seek injunctions but can instead delay patent licensing until disputes over cost are settled. You boys play nice now. I will stop the car if I have to.

Shareholders Not Impressed by Netflix’s Arrested Bump

Netflix added more than 630,000 new subscribers in the United States in the second quarter, thanks largely to its exclusive streaming rights to a new season of Arrested Development, enough to bump total domestic subscriber numbers to almost 30 million. But that figure was lower than the 700,000 that analysts predicted—because, you know, they’re always so accurate—and Netflix stock took a nice hit this week as a result. So while I cue up some jokes about how Arrested Development continues to delight its fans and underwhelm the network on which it runs, it’s important to note that Netflix sees original programming as its future. And really, House of Cards is pretty amazing as well.

For Amazon, That Mini-Loss Is Really Just an Investment

Amazon posted a rare loss for the previous quarter, but aside from some Wall Street handwringing, it’s pretty clear that it’s just business as usual for the rapidly expanding retailing giant. The important bit: Amazon revenues jumped an amazing 22 percent year over year, a far bigger leap than any major technology firm posted in the quarter. (Industry darling Apple posted a 1 percent revenue gain, and its stock soared.) But that tiny loss—$7 million, versus a $7 million profit a year ago—is solely due to expected investments in its long-term strategy. For example, the firm is spending hundreds of millions of dollars licensing digital video content for its streaming service because physical media currently represents almost one-third of Amazon’s sales, and the firm wants to be set up for the future. Put simply, nothing to see here.

But Wait, There's More

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